Withered Hand “How To Love”

Reveal Records, 2023

A splendidly intense record that celebrates life and love in its many forms.

Art work for Withered Hand album "How To Love"After a nine year break, Edinburgh-based, Dan Willson has got Withered Hand back in action for a new nine-track album which, given the nature of the record, is appropriately entitled ‘How To Love’. So why such a long hiatus? Willson says that “There are lots of reasons, I think for a while I was both struggling with my mental health and, I guess, having an underlying crisis of confidence. And also life was happening, for sure. We had a couple of unforeseen things happening and a few deaths close by”. The catalyst for reinvigorating Willson’s songwriting, after 2014’s ‘New Gods’ album, came in the form of a missive from Kathryn Williams just before the pandemic commenced asking him if he wanted to write together with her, although none of their co-writes appear on this release. The new LP was produced, recorded and mixed by Tony Doogan at Castle of Doom Studios in Glasgow and was well worth the wait. Willson jokingly told Doogan that he was making an indie gospel record; however, in some respects that’s an appropriate description.

The album starts off with the bold and brassy ‘Feelings’ which finds Willson ‘Propping up the bar you see, Or is the bar propping up me, As I try to kill the feeling’ in order to anaesthetize love as he puts it. ‘Crippled Love’ is a great emotive number, it appears to be a song about seeking salvation as Willson implores, ‘I know my crippled love won’t turn you down, Only your love could save you, now’.

Waking Up’ has great Stax-influenced brass lines. Love features again with Willson declaring that, it ‘Changes by the minute, Burns out and it fails, Splutters like a windblown flame’. ‘How To Love’, has slight echoes of The Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’, which is no bad thing. It’s about a lack of confidence and about not being afraid of death but being, ‘Afraid of dying not knowing how to love’.

Serenity Prayer’ appears to reference the one used in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings which is “To grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference”. In the song, Willson declares, ‘Now I think I see the name of my disease, Now I live to see the one, Give me one more time to get up off my knees, One more time around the sun’. The upbeat ‘Misery & Company’ features some great trumpet, trombone and saxophone playing with a seemingly more optimistic Willson declaring that, ‘My heart’s still beating’. It ends with a flourish of brass. ‘Still Quiet Voice’  with its chorus of ‘How will I recognise a still quiet voice inside, It is here, it is here, it is here‘, could be about searching for God or just listening to your inner needs. The album ends with the ‘Comedown’ which starts off with an acoustic strum, before the band come in. Fittingly, given the thread running through this record, Willson sees love as the solution as he sings ‘It’s one hell of a comedown, And if it wasn’t for love, I’d still get the feeling that somehow, What I think I need, it’s never enough’.

This is a very fine, courageous record. Willson almost put a question mark in the title, as he says “There’s a lot of isolated and confused men. I am. I can put my hand up”. This album offers all of us pointers; not only on how to negotiate and survive life, but also how to love and how to be loved.

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